Local Government Units Take Action to Protect Their Constituents from Mercury in Skin Whitening Cosmetics

The Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watchdog group, gave local government units (LGUs) a pat on the back for taking action to stop the illegal sale of skin whitening cosmetics laden with mercury, a toxic substance that is not permitted as an ingredient in cosmetics under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

The group cited the concerted action by some LGUs to address this public health and environmental issue as the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP3) is set to take place from November 25 to 29, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The group particularly cited the Quezon City Government for promulgating Ordinance No. 2767 in 2018, which prohibits business and commercial establishments, as well as street, “tiangge” and online vendors, from manufacturing, distributing and selling cosmetics with mercury content above one part per million (ppm) limit.

The group also lauded the Baguio City Government and the Manila City Government through their respective City Councils for considering measures similar to what the Quezon City Government adopted to combat the unlawful trade in mercury-added skin whitening products in their areas of jurisdiction.

The proposed ordinance banning and penalizing the trade in skin whitening cosmetics containing mercury above 1 ppm in Baguio City was filed by Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan, while counterpart ordinance was introduced by District II Councilor Numero Lim in Manila City.  Preliminary hearings were already conducted by the Baguio City Council Committee on Market, Trade, Commerce and Agriculture chaired by Councilor Philian Weygan Allan, and by the Manila City Council Committee on Health chaired by Councilor Louisito Chua.  

“We support the expedited approval of the pending ordinances in Baguio and Manila to send a clear message to unscrupulous traders of mercury-tainted skin whitening cosmetics that their days are numbered and that they can no longer evade responsibility for their illicit act,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“We urge other LGUs where the illegal sale of mercury-laced skin whitening products goes unchecked to follow the good example set by Quezon City to protect public health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury pollution,” he added.   

The EcoWaste Coalition further commended other LGUs, particularly the Angeles City Government, for cracking down on sellers who continue to defy the ban on mercury-contaminated skin whitening cosmetics that is being enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“National and local actions are essential to realize the global phase-out target by 2020 of cosmetics, including skin whitening products, with mercury above 1 ppm as per the Minamata Convention on Mercury,” Dizon said.

“As 2020 is just around the corner, we expect COP3 and all governments to actively pursue measures toward the effective phase-out of targeted mercury-added products (MAPs) under the mercury treaty,” he said, noting that the Philippines has already drawn up its national action plan for the phase-out of MAPs and the management of their associated wastes despite the country's delay in ratifying the treaty.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),” the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.”

Repeated applications of such products “may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections,” the WHO warned.





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